A good pick-me-up | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A good pick-me-up

Gregory Crofton

When Sylvan Sullwold drives at night he must stay sharp since he deals with a lot of people who aren’t.

“There is a lot of alcohol going around at night. People let loose,” said Sullwold, 25, a cab driver. “You get some who are really, really drunk that fall asleep in the cab. When they get in you’ve got to let them know you’re in charge and that these are the rules.”

Working the day shift for Yellow Cab is an entirely different story. Sullwold might spend part of his day driving an older woman home from work before taking the time to help her up the stairs to her apartment.

“Days you spend meeting people,” Sullwold said.

As with most jobs at South Shore, the work ebbs and flows. Spring and fall are dead times. Drivers stop working 12-hour shifts and might even take time out for a vacation.

Things are different when the town is packed, like this New Year’s weekend or July 4th. Calls stream in and drivers say they can make more than $1,000 a week. But in an average week, drivers bring home $400 to $500.

“Tahoe is a manic-depressive town, it’s bipolar here,” Sullwold said. “But it all comes around. You’ve just got to be patient.”

Patience pays off when dispatch – operated from the Yellow Cab depot on Eloise Avenue near the “Y” – hooks a driver up with a long trip.

“You’d be surprised how many people get in a cab and say ‘take me to San Francisco,'” said Tom Alvord, a dispatcher for Yellow Cab who has been in the business for 10 years.

Cherished by most drivers are late-night runs to the brothels in Mound House, east of Carson City. The calls mostly come from people who have been drinking.

Drivers collect fare money for the round-trip, which takes about 45 minutes each way, but they also get 20 percent of whatever their passenger spends at the brothel. Last summer, a driver for Yellow Cab made $9,000 in one night, Alvord said.

Other than the occasional windfall, what cab drivers seem to have in common is smoking cigarettes. Every driver that stopped to check in at the depot had a cigarette in their mouths.

“They don’t hand you the keys and a pack of smokes,” said Sullwold, who smokes, but said not every driver lights up.

Even though people might be tempted to lump those who work as cab drivers into the “I don’t want a boss,” category, that’s not the case.

“The taxi business is like a carnival,” Alvord said. “It draws all different characters. You get all different personalities from low-life scum-ball idiots to nuclear scientists. I’m serious.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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